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September 21, 2002

Lemon-pepper hot sauce
Posted by Teresa at 09:30 AM *

My favorite commercial hot sauce is Another Bloody Day in Paradise Three Pepper Lemon Hot Sauce, which was originally designed for grilling fish and making Bloody Marys, but IMO is good on everything but dessert. Lately, though, I’ve been wanting a tart, lighter-bodied version of it, so I’ve done some experimenting on my own.

Lemon-pepper hot sauce

12 oz. extra-strength cider vinegar
8-10 good big plump jalapenos
2 large or 3 small lemons
several large cloves of garlic
salt
2 T. dried basil
2 t. dried thyme
2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 t. ground coriander
1/4 t. ground nutmeg or mace
1/4 t. celery salt
a dash of ground comino
a blender or food processor
See the additional notes below.

Don rubber gloves. Wash and stem the peppers, then put them in the bowl of your food processor to keep them out of trouble. Before going any further, wash your knife, cutting board, and rubber-gloved hands with soap, rinsing thoroughly. After this point, gloves are optional.

Peel or grate the zest off the lemons. Remove the remaining white part of the peel and discard it. Cut the lemons in half and flick out the seeds. (You’re allowed to miss a few.) Put the lemons, zest, and all the other ingredients except the salt and vinegar into the bowl of your food processor.

Process at moderate speed until it reduces to a wet pulp. If it’s too dry, add a quarter-cup of vinegar. Scrape the bowl down, throw in a[nother] quarter-cup of vinegar, and zap it at high speed until it’s either liquefied or you can smell the motor starting to overheat. Add the remaining vinegar at the end.

Pour it out into a wire strainer. When the pulp is drained, remove it to a storage container, salt it strongly, cover it, and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Refrigerate the liquid, too. In the morning, run the pulp through the food processor again, then put it back in the strainer and pour the liquid through it. Let it drain, pressing it to squeeze out any last drops. You may want to use cheesecloth or pantyhose for this latter part. Discard the used-up pulp.

You now have a bottle of sauce. You may want to strain it again through finer-gauge filters, though that’s not strictly necessary. Keep it refrigerated. Makes ten or twelve ounces, depending on how hard you squeeze.

Some notes on ingredients:

Jalapenos: The red ones have more flavor; the green ones are hotter. I like having some of each. For a milder sauce, break the peppers in half when you’re stemming them and remove the seeds. Doing this under running water will help get the seeds out, but you’ll have to work fast. Capsaicin doesn’t like water, and via some mechanism I don’t understand, gets into the air, where it will make you cough. (Fresh habaneros are even worse that way. I like to keep them submerged in olive oil, like metallic sodium in kerosene.)

Black (capsicum) pepper, a.k.a. capsicum pepper: The fancy peppercorn mixes with pink, green, white, and brown peppercorns mixed in aren’t just an affectation. They all have slightly different flavors. Grinding them together gives you a richer, broader-spectrum flavor that goes very well in this sauce.

Vinegar: This part is seriously optional, okay? So: The water held in the peppers will dilute your vinegar, so I make mine strong to start via freeze concentration, a.k.a. jacking. Take at least a quart of cider vinegar and pour it into smaller freezer containers. Tall skinny shapes work best. Freeze them, then unmold them and set them upright in a wire strainer over a bowl. The vinegar will melt faster than the water, so you’ll see the brown color gradually drain out of the chunk of ice. The sooner you stop draining, the less water melts into your bowl, but the more vinegar you lose in the ice.

Repeat this process several times with the contents of the bowl and its descendants. If you want, you can also repeat it with the ice chunks, adding their first strong runoff to the stuff from the bowl. Over time your batches will diverge, some growing paler and milder, others getting darker and stronger, until you’re left with a thin washy vinegary solution you can use for rinsing your hair, and a smaller amount of dark, almost viscous concentrated vinegar. If I put a drop of it on the tip of my tongue and it hurts, I figure it’s ready to use.

This same trick can be used to raise the alcohol content of hard cider, i.e. make applejack, and to concentrate fruit juices without heating them. (Pressure cookers are all very well, but I want a vacuum cooker too.)

Pantyhose: The strainer of choice for large projects. A new pair is best, but a well-washed old pair works too—you’re not going to use the crotch and foot anyway. Tie a very tight knot just above the foot and trim off everything below it. Cut the other bits off at the top. Take the top edge and roll it down as though you were putting on an old-fashioned gartered stocking. Leave a few inches at the bottom. Set the dangly end in a bowl and start scooping your fruit pulp or salsa makings into the opening. A canning funnel or a friend who can hold the top open for you is good here, or you can use a tuna can with its top and bottom cut off as a support. Gradually unroll more fabric as the stocking fills. A full-length leg will hold a surprising amount. When you’re done, tie another knot and hang the thing up to drain.

Be considerate when disposing of it afterward, especialy if you’re working with flesh-colored materials; it can look unnervingly like a transporter accident.

Comments on Lemon-pepper hot sauce:
#1 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2002, 12:34 AM:

I thought that for once I had no comment about the subject at hand, but then realized that I could suggest using "glacial acetic acid," probably still available from photo supply stores, in place concentrating vinegar by phase separation.

Of course, this wouldn't concentrate the cider flavour, which might be a drawback. Or, though it looks like work to me, you might just enjoy jacking.

#2 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2002, 01:22 PM:

Bear with me: I'm having a Jon Singer Moment.

I've got no actual experience with jacking, so I may be way off base here.

But it seems to me that if the vineagar melts faster than the water does, it's because it has a lower freezing point than water does. And it might be that if you allowed the ice to melt in your refrigerator, the difference in melting rate between the water and the vineagar would be enhanced, and the resulting vineagar melt would be stronger. The process would take rather longer, but with better results.

(See, a degree in physics can be put to good use!)

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2002, 01:55 PM:

That thought has occurred to me, too; but along with all its other charms, my POS refrigerator barely has room for my normal groceries.

#4 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2002, 09:23 PM:

Thinking about Alan's comments and adding the information from a sophomore year course on solidifiation phenomena, I would venture to suggest that cooling the vinegar to refrigerator temperatures, or even melting-ice temperatures, before sticking it in the freezer might also improve results.

This is because the interface between solid and liquid is smoother and traps less liquid during freezing when the temperature gradient across the solidification interface is lower.

You could also look at the cider vinegar-water phase diagram and find an optimal temperature at which mostly-water ice would freeze out of mostly-acetic-acid vinegar. Then if you stirred the solution as it froze, you could judge by thermometer the optimum time to remove the slurry and filter out the ice.

But your freezer probably doesn't have room for an electric mixer.

#5 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2002, 10:16 PM:

Or you could invent some nanomachines that sort acetic acid from water (preserving cider-flavor components), program them with the optimal concentration, and let 'em rip.

But you probably don't have room for the nano-machine generators in your refrigerator, either.

Yeesh. Let the poor woman jack some vinegar, hey guys?

#6 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2002, 11:33 PM:

X, I'd rather program the nanomachines to separate water from everything else, which is a far more practical approach than trying to identify what is or is not an important component of cider vinegar.

Owner of a large refrigerator,
Bob

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2002, 01:23 AM:

I don't strain partly-frozen slurry. I let the whole thing freeze solid, then let the vinegar melt out of it. This works. I discovered it inadvertently one day when I'd left a block of frozen fruit juice to melt. The runoff was stronger than I remembered the original juice being, and the ice left behind was almost flavorless.

#8 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2002, 09:10 AM:

I always thought that this was rather the point of Slush Puppies. The best ones are the raspberry ones, because they're electric blue. So Marianne sucks up all the blue colouring, artificial flavours, sugar and whatnot, dyeing her fingers and tongue blue in the process. She leaves a collection of sludgy flavourless, colourless ice underneath. Which she discards. But presumably it starts as a consistent liquid.

#9 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2002, 12:05 PM:

Teresa,
I gathered that you didn't strain the slurry now, but an approach very like this is used for industrial separation processes. I assure you that if you were making more than about 50 bbl of concentrated vinegar in your partment, you would want to look into this.

I didn't seriously expect you to explore the vinegar-water phase diagram, install a mixer in your freezer, connect a thermocouple and wait for an alarm at a set point, etc.. I might more seriously recommend that you look into using a water-faucet aspirator to pull a vacuum on a pressure cooker you were using for vacuum-enhaced distillation.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2002, 10:01 PM:

Water-faucet aspirator? Say on. Does Mr. Bernoulli come into this?

#11 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2002, 11:30 PM:

Very perceptive of you, Teresa, though I think the credit is given more to Signor Venturi than Bernoulli.

Flowing water enters a channel in the body of the aspirator. This channel decreases in diameter at a point along its length. As the water passes into the narrowed section of the channel its linear velocity increases and its pressure decreases. The narrow part of the channel, where the pressure is low, is provided with an intersecting channel which opens to the outside of the aspirator device's body. In operation, this channel is connected by a pipe or hose to the vessel in which one wishes to reduce the pressure.

Air from that vessel flows along the pipe or hose into the aspirator, where the pressure is lower than in the vessel. They can't really pull a hard vacuum, and there's a tendency for water to be drawn back up the connecting channel as pressure at the throat of the aspirator channel varies.

Water faucet aspirators are often found in chemistry labs. A typical application would be to connect the aspirator to the side-arm of a side-arm Erlenmeyer flask and insert a filter funnel through a stopper into the flask's mouth. The pressure differential between the atmosphere and the inside of the flask increases the flow of liquid through the small holes in the filter funnel.

I found a lab equipment vendor listing of such a device for $111, but I'm sure they could be made or bought for less. The device's performance is interesting, though, "The water aspirator will evacuate 10a0liters of air to less than 60a0mma0Hg in less than 6a0minutes at 15a0psi water pressure. " That's over a two gallon volume reduced to about a thirteenth of an atmosphere.

I found an ASU page which showed a home experiment in vacuum, seemed to assume a cheap plastic aspirator, so if you have any science lab supply stores in town, you might be able to get something for a few dollars. Mortuary supply stores also carry aspirators, though I expect they'd be overpriced.

If you're interested in rolling your own, you might find instructions for constructing a simple aspirator in a book on constructing simple science experiments. UNESCO used to have some good books like this, but I would guess that there are a couple someplace at the Strand Bookstore.

Oh, if you do this, use a "vacuum breaker" to keep the contents of the vacuum vessel from being sucked back up into the water supply pipes.

A simple mechanism for pulling moderate vacuums using an electric pump can also be constructed. This is useful if you want to avoid using a lot of water to pull a vacuum, but you still need to buy or build the Venturi aspirator device.

#12 ::: Jeff Youngstrom ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2002, 02:04 AM:

Here's a faucet-based pump like what Mr. Webber is describing. I suspect since it's at a pet supply place, it's intended for use in emptying aquaria. No idea if this would give sufficient vacuum for vacuum cooker purposes.

#13 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2002, 09:56 AM:

The pump Jeff Youngstrom has linked to works on the Venturi principle and does reduce pressure in the fixture and hose attached to the side of the pump body.

I think the "suction" side of the pump is probably too large to work well pumping air instead of water, though.

#14 ::: Mother ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2002, 12:19 PM:

Good grief, TB, reduce it on a low heat . Most chefs do it regularly. It won't change the taste all that much. Or try the Pride of Deer Creek marinade found in the green cookbook.

#15 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2002, 04:16 AM:

Hi, Mrs Nielsen. I doubt that you remember me, but we met briefly in your home about twenty-five years ago while I was visiting Arizona for LepreCon at the Grand Canyon. Teresa took me on a fun expedition to a high school debate contest in Chandler, and I remember your house on Yucca Circle seeming very strange to a boy raised in Toronto.

Anyway, if we can't have vacuum distillation in every kitchen, it's just not worth the trouble of living here in the future. It would be like not being able to degauss fresh corn, and instead having to eat it off the cob like animals.

Oh, and I wanted to say that I hope you are at least as proud to have Teresa as your daughter as I have been to have her as my friend through those years. She is truly an exceptional person, even if she sometimes does things the hard way.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2002, 10:26 PM:

Thank you.

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